tv Newsmakers CSPAN January 6, 2013 6:00pm-6:30pm EST
with them all the time. >> the d.c. circuit is considering verizon's challenge to the fcc's rules. it is unclear how the court is going to rule. their indications that o skeptical. >> monday night on >> our guest on "newsmakers" is debbie stabenow. she just won reelection. she has the important job of the chair of the agriculture committee in the senate. it will be a busy year for you. thanks for being with us. reporters. jerry hagstrom covers agriculture in depth on capitol
hill. he contributes to the "national journal." and niels lesniewski is a reporter for "roll call." >> you worked very hard on the farm bill. it was not included in the fiscal cliff bill. they not include the extension that you wanted and that you had worked out with congressman lucas. what do you feel was lost by not including either the farm bill or the extension that you wanted? >> the most important thing is what you said in terms of the house. we passed a bill, as you know, back in june, strong bipartisan effort, deficit reduction of $24 billion altogether, reforms that were needed, did away with government subsidies that did not make sense. we sent it to the house. we were very close on the full
bill. to my sheer surprise and shock, the house never took it up. i have never seen that before in my life, where the speaker of the house would not think that the 16 million people that work in agriculture across america were not important enough to bring a five-year farm bill to the floor. that was the worst part of all of this. it creates the situation of trying to figure out how we go around the house that will not take up the bill. we did end up with an extension that was different than was agreed to by the four leaders. that was also done at the very last minute by senator mcconnell leading the way. he had voted against the farm bill, even though he agreed to bring it to the floor. he was clearly protecting the interests of those who want to keep the big government subsidies. the extension we wanted that would have extended every part
of the farm bill shaved off 2.5% from direct payments, the government subsidies that go to farmers, regardless of whether they need it. that was something that leader mcconnell would not support. part of that also was disaster assistance. for the life of me, i cannot believe that we have seen disaster assistance go through both the house and senate that did not include agriculture. we were told it would be in the extension. to pull that out and leave ranchers, farmers, cherry growers in my state -- it is something i find outrageous. agriculture needs a champion. i will be at the frontline. we are going going to get this done. >> what kind of schedule do you think you will be on? are you willing to go ahead of the house? are you worried they will not do anything again?
>> somebody has got to lead. we are going to lead. we are going to move ahead. i fully expect we will pass a bill. that it will be a good bill. it will have reform in it. i just talked to collin peterson. he has taken a position which i think makes perfect sense, that the democrats will not participate in a mock up in the house unless the speaker says that they will bring up the bill within a month. chairman lucas and a ranking member in the house worked very hard, as we did. i very much appreciate my relationship with both of them. i appreciate chairman lucas working with me on the extension that would have worked for all of agriculture and had disaster assistance in it. he was working till the very
end, like i was. we need people to understand that rural america is important, agriculture is important, farmers and ranchers count. if you eat today, thank a farmer. of the 16 million people that work in agriculture, they need to know that we understand the risky business that it is and that we are going to make sure we have a farm bill that makes perfect sense for them. >> as we look ahead to what is coming, there is a debt-limit situation about to need to be dealt with. we have technically already reached the federal debt limit. the treasury is now using what is called "extraordinary measures" to keep things going. i want to ask if you think there is an opportunity there. if senator mcconnell is saying there is going to have to be more spending cuts in order to get a debt-limit deal done, is that an opportunity for the farm bill to once again be used as a vehicle for deficit reduction, or is that not in the cards? >> that's a really good point. they say that congress and the white house should jump at the bipartisan effort we have put together that has $24 billion in savings, in cuts.
by the way, this was done in the kind of thoughtful way that we ought to be deciding on things across-the-board. this was not just slash and burn. we looked at programs that do not make sense anymore or do not work or are duplications. it was common sense. folks that care about agriculture, local food systems, nutrition, rural development -- they all looked at it and said that makes sense. we're willing to do our part. we did it in a way that allows the important services and programs to be able to continue to logic would say, yes.
i have to tell you, i don't know. at the end of the day, instead of taking $24 billion in savings, mitch mcconnell's position was to continue $5 billion per year in subsidies that the majority of folks have said should not be paid at all. and he fought to continue those direct subsidies. they say they want more cuts, but when it comes to wealthy farmers that have high prices and do not use subsidies, they seem very willing to jeopardize the rest of agriculture to protect those subsidies. that is wrong, in my book, and we need an agricultural bill that effectively works for all of agriculture and for the taxpayers. that is our responsibility as well. >> you will have a new ranking member, thad cochran.
there was the idea that you were both interested in northern farmers and their crops. i know you have said there had to be balance. how does senator cochran coming to the position of ranking member affect how this will go forward this year? >> i'm really looking forward to working with senator cochran. he and i have talked briefly. his staff has reached out to mine already. they have already met. we look forward to a really good relationship moving forward. in my book, it does not change anything in terms of the final dynamic, because we have always known that we would have to make some adjustment to make sure that this works for all
commodities. i am very concerned that we continue reforms could we have payment limits. we have other reforms that i think are very important. senator grassley has championed those. senator tim johnson. i think that is important. i am looking forward to an opportunity with senator cochran. i think we will be able to work well together and we will be able to move forward in a way that will allow the kind of balance that we need to do to get a bill done. >> would you comment on the relationship between the two leaders in the senate after the fiscal cliff negotiations which ended up with the two leaders not being able to reach agreement and senator mcconnell going to the white house with vice president biden to find a deal? how does that leave this critical relationship between
the majority leader and senator mcconnell? >> first of all, senator reid is always willing to step up to the middle and work together. this is somebody who wants to govern, wants to get things done. senator mcconnell deserves credit for stepping up when the speaker could not get anything done in the house, to be willing to negotiate, to do something bipartisan. i vehemently oppose what he did on agriculture, but i think he does deserve credit for being willing to reach out and work with the white house. to me, what happened with the fiscal cliff was not about the two senate leaders. it was about the fact that the house could not get any agreement to do anything. they could not pass anything. the speaker then send that back to the republican leader in the senate to say i cannot even pass a bill that has people up to $1 million without tax increases. people are protected up to $1 million. he send that back to mitch
mcconnell to work with the white house. in the end, what we will see in the senate is the ongoing back- and-forth of ideas, hopefully fewer filibusters. we have all had to deal with more filibusters than at any other time in our history. we are happy to fight it out like we did on the farm bill, different ideas, regular order. let's come to the floor. let's have amendments and so on. the folks who just want to obstruct in order to obstruct have been the most difficult part of things. >> the immediate next
negotiation for senators reid and mcconnell is about getting a package to make things work more expeditiously. where do you stand on that? do you think that if senators reid and mcconnell were not able to make a deal, that his caucus would back him up? >> i am fully confident that he will reach a deal. we see this now being used on every single bill, just to obstruct. we have situations where filibusters are used for a week. it is not about differences in legislation. it is about slowing things down. i support reform. i think it is necessary. i think it is very important to retain the ability to step up and filibuster. you should have to stand on the floor and indicate you are the one that is concerned and take responsibility for it. the rules really do not require that right now. i would like to have what is called a talking filibuster. i do think 60 votes is important in certain circumstances. this idea that a leader cannot set certain priorities without
being blocked and a motion to proceed i think has outlived its usefulness. it is used to play games and obstruct. i would very much like to see that eliminated. >> one of the odd things about this extension -- even though the republicans have wanted to trim food stamps, that program has not trimmed either. there has been such a debate about that, in which you have agreed to a small reduction. how do you think you will proceed on food stamps this year? >> under the sequester, and rightly so, nutrition programs are protected. it is important to know that the cost of nutrition goes up or down with the economy. the costs are going down. we will see the next baseline that we get in terms of farm programs, nutrition costs are going down, because the economy is getting better. it is like crop insurance. when you have the need, costs go up.
when you don't, costs go down. for families, this is their crop insurance. we did agree in the senate to make changes that create savings by better efficiency. somebody who wins the lottery -- that is outrageous for them to continue to get food assistance. i'm not willing, when we have somebody who loses a job because of a plant closing and they have paid taxes all their lives, never had to ask for
help, and they suddenly need help to put food on the table for their families on a temporary basis -- those are the folks that ought to be receiving help, and i'm going to make sure they do. going forward, we will still have that debate. i know that, in the senate, there is a willingness to do this in a way that makes sense. >> if you look at other programs, these assistance programs that are not necessarily all within the context of agriculture policy, but -- social security benefits, medicare, medicaid -- there is the talk of reforming entitlement programs in general, which republicans seem to be wanting to do fairly expeditiously. there are all of these stories of republicans perhaps trying to -- the chain cpi.
do you think these should all be viewed as one package? i know the farm programs, the nutrition programs in the farm bill are often viewed separately, even though it is the same people in need of all of these benefits. >> in terms of the farm bill, it is important to tie together consumers, people who need nutrition help, or local food systems, farmers markets, what we are doing for schools, with farmers, support for local
growers, the jobs that are created -- it does make sense to tie it all together. more broadly on deficit reduction, for me, stepping back and looking at it, having done deficit reduction in the farm bill -- i know it can be done in a smart, sensible way that works for people, works for families. there are three parts to deficit reduction. one is spending cuts. congress has agreed to $1.6 trillion in spending cuts, not counting the $24 billion in the farm bill. social security is solvent till 2033. we ought to be addressing that, but separately. we have already agreed to $700 billion in cuts in savings to medicare. we have not done anything, until a couple of days ago, to say the wealthiest americans should be part of the solution, and that is what happened on new year's eve in the senate. we said the wealthiest americans
need to contribute a little bit more while we maintain tax cuts for the middle-class families. going forward, balance means you address all of those things. it has got to be balanced in all three parts. the other thing we have got to keep focused on -- coming from michigan, i am laser focused -- and that is jobs and our economy growing. we will never get out of debt with this many people out of work. we have better numbers coming in every month. unemployment is going down. it is still too high. that's one of the reasons the farm bill is so important. manufacturing is creating jobs across the country. we are using byproducts from agriculture to replace petroleum and other chemicals in manufacturing. we are creating jobs across the country. rural development, energy -- we have jobs that are created by a long-term investment in the farm bill.
that is part of how we get out of debt. >> i realize those are your priorities and that you think some of the money in the farm bill could be better spent. this extension extended those direct payments. do you think the direct-payment program will eventually die, or is this an indication there will be a fight to try to keep them? >> i think there will be a fight to try to keep them. folks don't want to admit it. they would rather do it behind the scenes. we can either do it in a way
that works for agriculture or it will be done in a way that is not good for agriculture in terms of funding other things. are we just going to lose the baseline? or will we make a cut but then be able to reinvest? that will ultimately be the question. i will continue to champion what is best for american farmers and ranchers in a responsible way for taxpayers. as long as i am chairing the agriculture committee, we will do everything possible to eliminate subsidies that do not make sense while strengthening the risk management tools, like crop insurance, conservation, and so on. but those who want to keep the subsidies going, i would urge them to think twice about the position they are putting themselves in long-term, trying to maintain that in the light of day when there is scrutiny on how to spend government money. the scrutiny will show that we should not be doing that. we can either work together in a responsible way or i think this particular fight will put agriculture more at a disadvantage.
>> i would like to follow-up on that that. you mentioned the baseline question. what i'm gathering you are saying is that if the direct payments were to be cut in some form other than in the context of the farm bill, that the money that is currently going to direct payments could not necessarily be used for other programs, nutrition programs, the energy title, whatever it may be -- can you speak a little
bit more about that? how the way that scoring things, both the farm bill and other programs -- how it has become a part of all of these fiscal debates in a way that is almost too wonky for anyone to want to talk about? >> for anybody listening and talking about base scores, they go, what are you talking about? the budget office resets every year. they will do something in january. in march, they will look at where dollars are spent and they reassess where the costs are. as we had more payouts in crop insurance, they will be reassessing more spending there. that will affect how much is available in total. if you than eliminate a large investment like direct payments without doing it in the context of the whole farm bill so that you can reinvest dollars in a way that makes sense and support farmers, it is not best for agriculture. i've been saying that till i'm blue in the face.
the folks who want to just go fight the big government subsidies are going to have to be held accountable. i have to go back to where we started, which is in the house. we passed a bill in the senate. $24 billion in the deficit reduction. reforms strengthening conservation. reforms strengthening crop insurance, local food systems. broadly supported by agriculture. the house would not take it up. the big issue for me is where does rural america stand in terms of the house of representatives. i know where it is with the ag committee. with speaker boehner and the leadership of the house -- i'm amazed, given how many of them come from rural districts. people across america who care about agriculture, who care about farmers and ranchers and
local food systems, are going to have to stand up and get engaged in this and hold people accountable to do the right thing. otherwise, we won't get a farm bill. we will get it out of the senate because we are committed to agriculture. i will continue to fight like crazy for the 16 million people that work for agriculture in america. but we are going to need some help in the house so that they understand that this is a critical part of our economy. the number one export surplus in this country is agriculture. could go on and on and on with why this is important. no one else has to worry about the weather and whether there is drought and rain. we have the most efficient system, the safest system in the world. foodn't go to war over
like other countries do. we are at a point where i don't think a lot of folks, particularly the house leadership -- there seem to be a lot of folks who don't understand the importance of agriculture to our economy. i will continue to tell the story. i will continue to lead the fight. >> we have about 30 seconds left. do you see anything that will change the dynamic as we go into the new congress? >> i am hopeful. in the senate, i see people working together. we have big differences in how to move the country forward. that is ok as long as people are talking and willing to compromise. i'm always optimistic. i will continue to be. i am hopeful that the house will be willing to step up and continue to work in the best
interest of the country. >> come back and be with us again as the farm bill debate continues. >> i will. >> "newsmakers" is back with niels lesniewski and jerry hagstrom. we just finished talking to the chair of the senate agriculture committee, senator debbie stabenow. she described this effort as very bipartisan and deficit cutting. >> it was bipartisan, but not biregional. it did go through the senate. the big problem was the house and its unwillingness to take it up, primarily because there would have been such a debate over food stamps. the house says it does not have enough votes to pass it, and it
is not clear if that is true or not. >> there will be a markup early in the new session. i know the senate is -- you asked about the debt ceiling which is first up when they come back. how does the politics of the house to address the debt figure in to politics and the farm bill? >> the theory that leaders were operating under during the debate on the fiscal cliff that we just wrapped up -- if you saw a situation where you needed to find deficit reduction to offset some sort of either spending cuts or offset increase to the debt limit or be paired with an offset, the farm bill would be a good inclusion in that effort. what we heard senator stabenow say today was a less optimistic view, but a more realistic view, but that is not likely to happen, given what is going on with the farm bill and given what we have learned. the house has no plans to take it up. they did not take it up at all last congress. it is too early to tell really what the plan is among the house leadership.
ranking member on the house agriculture committee, has said he is not going to participate in the development of a bill until he gets some sort of commitment from the house that they are going to take the bill up on the floor. he says he will give speaker boehner a month to make this commitment, but he wants this commitment. i think that might make some action here. in our interview, i thought the most important thing that senator stabenow said is that have to demand that the house take up the farm bill. because there was an absence of action this past year. farmers and general are prosperous, and they are not paying as much attention as they usually do. >> we have about a minute left. you both asked about two of the most visceral agricultural most visceral agricultural programs, subsidies and food